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RTP Study: Women Leaving Male-Dominated Jobs Early

Posted August 23, 2006

— Many women who pursue some of the toughest jobs in engineering, computers and even law end up leaving them early, according to a new study from a Research Triangle Park-based group.

led by researchers at RTI International, the study followed more than 100 female high school seniors who aspired to work in male-dominated jobs. Seven years later, 83 percent of the women had switched to a more female-friendly field.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Educational Research and Evaluation, found most women wanted to change their careers to have more flexibility that is needed to start a family.

"Sometimes, you run into individuals who aren't sensitive to flexible schedules to pick up your children, the need to juggle all of these complications in one's life," said Sarah Rajala, an associate dean of engineering at North Carolina State University.

Rajala works to make sure that female students understand the culture of a male-dominated workplace before they enter it. Over the years, she has counseled former students considering such a move.

Mechanical engineer Heather Maria gave up her full-time industry job.

"That environment had been traditionally sculpted around the men, so women are seeking out their little piece of the puzzle, but that hasn't happened yet," Maria said.

N.C. State is trying to strike the balance early with support groups for women in male-dominated fields. Still, the study says, a woman being successful in the same career as a man remains difficult.

Researchers say girls need role models who successfully balance male-dominated careers and families. They also recommend programs to help change perceptions about women's ability in math and science careers.

Nationally, women are underrepresented in a number of fields. By the end of the 1990s, women made up nearly half of the American workforce, but only 11 percent of the nation's engineers, 29 percent of computer scientists, 31 percent of chemists and 29 percent of lawyers.


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